tv Inside Story Al Jazeera April 18, 2015 8:30am-9:01am EDT
>> emmy award-winning investigative series. water for coal. monday, 10:00 eastern. only on al jazeera america. >> part of al jazeera america's >> special month long evironmental focus fragile planet >> the modern world has been tough on bees, raising uncomfortable questions about what we've done for the environment to threaten these vital insects. what the bees are trying to tell us, it's the "inside story".
you can find bees in art, wall carvings, empossed embossed on the toolts oftoolsof daily life, and cultivated more and more plants. bees were understood to be part of the story and admired for their persistence, hard work being able to sacrifice the goal of the one individual for the entire community. now bees are disappearing, dying in huge numbers. bee keepers are opening hives to find them virtually empty. to cause this widespread death the bees used to fertilize specific crops or exposure to plants, using certainty pesticides. worry going a bee seems to be a luxury but much of what you eat
relies on bees for pollination. births lizards and amphibians dying or disappearing, is the world trying otell us something? randall verhook, immediate past president of the american honey bee association. welcome to "inside story". >> thank you. >> when you had been with us last time you had just come through a winter with sizable losses in your own population. what kind of year has this been? >> well, i can happily report that i am having a lot better year than i did last year. and you know, as we address all these different issues with honey bees whether it's colony collapse disorder or pliets or whatever, bees are having to learn how to adapt. and you can believe that after
last year's tragedies and unbelievable disasters, i went on a research to discover what did i do wrong, what changed in the environment and what steps do i need to take to be proactive to prevent this from happening again so that i continue to stay in business. >> well you mention having to adapt. what have you and your members done? it's kind of like an employer, realizing he's only got half the workers in the first place. what do you do, over populate to make up for losses? >> that's basically what bee keepers are doing. we have to continually change the way we do business and the way we keep our bees, you know we used to kind of have a saying, there's always -- the main time to split a hive is in the spring. that's just like calves are born in the spring and you know every
season seems to start out in the spring when new life starts happening. but lately what we've had to do is, we just make up bees throughout the year. and typically i used to start making up numbers in march and finish up in april. well we're l still doing that and making up a few more in june and we've even started to make up bees in august and september up in north dakota. so it's a continual just keep your boxes full, you have to keep making up more bees. >> are there members of your association who have endured you such large losses that they've just decided to get out of the business altogether? >> yes, there's definitely some of those. or they've really cut down. they you know, even in my own case, i could have went out and bought a bunch more bees to try to restock everything right away. but until we really get a handle
on what's going on, you just want to be really moving strategically and really consider the steps that you're taking, and try to get a really good grasp on all the matters at hand that are affecting these bees. and you know what i found is that you can't leave anything to error, and above and beyond that you have to spend a lot more on the bees, putting extra food on them. one of the things that we use are pollen patties which consist of brewer's yeast and sugar and different ingredients to try to replace the natural pollen. and we feed that into the bees longer into the winter than what we normally used to, to try to offset some of the different factors that are affecting the bee hives. >> so when you and others hit the road this year to
start pollenating farmers fields, some of us like a plum or almond or honey, hundreds of thousands millions, what's on the back of the truck? >> most bee keepers that are in the upon pollennation service, some keep back on the losses they anticipate in make but most bee keepers send all of their bees into at least one pollennation. that's the big one, most bee keepers send their bees to the almonds to pollenate. from there they start splitting up their operation. maybe they'll send to pollenate
their crops or make up bees to produce honey but there's so many different ways to run a bee keeping operation. but just the way it's worked out over the last ten years, or so most bee keepers that are in the commercial bee business end up in california to pallennate almonds, february 14th. >> and are we talking about millions of bees? how many do you own for instance? >> i've cut back to 10,000, as i try to grasp on everything that's going on. and there's a lot of -- i'd say it takes well over -- almost 2 million hives to pallennate thal mofnedalmond crop in california now. >> are you closer to understand what to do and what not to do to cut your losses over the course of a year ?
when you have bee keepers opening up hives to find everybody dead or to find it inextricably empty, that's a catastrophic kind of event and it's hard to know how to adjust to it. but if we are getting closer maybe you have some wisdom you can pass on about what's working and what's not working in your own case. >> well, like for last year, example, i mean when i started looking at the bees, right after christmastime, it was just like, you know, somebody kicking you in the gut. you just couldn't believe what you were finding. and you start wondering, you know, what did you do wrong? because you know this is your livelihood, and you take things personally, and you do everything you can do, to do a good job. you know i know somewhere along the row, pesticides are playing a factor in this. but they're not going to go away any time soon. so, you know, i'm trying to be
proactive and just figure out how can i live with these pesticides. what can i do to adapt? and then also, be a part of the ag community. and have conversations with all the different stakeholders, and so that we can try to learn together, how can we produce honey bees and produce honey and pollenate crops and at the same time, how can the american farmer produce all the rest of the crops for the food that weed we eat, and yet have our environment and our honey bees be safe. >> randall verhook is past president of the honey bee association, is it too late, have we already sent these commercially vital insects down a very dangerous path? is it getting late in our chances to do anything to fix it? stay with us. it's "inside story".
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>> every mouthful of food you eat is connected to the work the bees do, berries fruits and vegetables, they depend on pollennation. it's hardly leading national influences casts or bofs the fold of your morning paper that bees are in real trouble. i'm joined by phil torres, host of "techknow" and doug gurian sherman. are bees particularly vulnerable because they live in intimate little groups of 40 or 50,000 individuals? >> yes, i think that definitely contributes to it. if one bee is out there he's bringing it home to the rest of it. but it goes beyond a single hive. one of the issues is bees are being shipped across the united
states to pollenate, could have a might mite or infection, it's not in the hive it's in the pollennation enpollennation grown udz. the deceases or possiblen could spread. >> i want to put this in its proper context. how much we should worry about this, whether it is a potential calamity, how much circulate we worry about the potential of the honey bee in the united states? >> it's critically important. as you indicated a third or more of our food depends on bees or other
pollenators. , very types of foods that are threatened by decline of pollenators. not just honey bees. wild beads are important in pollenating our foods. billions of dollars to our agriculture economy. those are threatened and perhaps more than honey bees. while they have large hives as was said, they carry the pesticides and diseases back to the hive. they also have some buffering. solitary bees, bumblebees that have smaller colonies and so on they are less vulnerable to the insecticides. >> the hive collapse and the mites and the various diseases. >> there's not as much data, honey bees are so important to
us economically not just for their pollennation valley val, but there's been other study of it. where bumblebees have been studied, there has been in those studies higher vulnerability. but we do need more study for that. i mean the data for example that links the pesticides, the insecticides is what we call weight of evidence data. a lot of other data not one is inclusive, when you add it all together, the european science academy just came out with a review that suggests for bees of all kinds and other beneficial insects which are important to the economy and agriculture, as they said a severe or serious impact they think from these insecticides, as well as the diseases in others, those have certainly some effect as well. >> well phil earlier in the
program you heard our bee keeper randall verhook talk about the possibility that pesticides are playing a big role on this. so much focus is on neonicotineoids. >> they are a part that is used in the plant, actually goes inside the plant so it's not just a topical thing where if it's on a leaf and a bug eats it it's going to get sick and die it can get inside the plant and end up until pollen or nectar. it was originally created so it wouldn't affect these nontarget specious like the honey bees. we are seeing these low concentrations are ending up affecting bees in a way that aren't good. however, people are pointing to this as the solution to the
problem, these neonicotinoids as much bigger than that . an important thing to be looked at as well. let's see the honey bee population swings back, are we going to forget about the other issues that are going on that we need to address? >> when you say it's not just the pesticides, what are some of the other things we should keep our eye on trying to understand what's wrong with the bees? >> you know i think agricultural practices in general could use a little help. they're starting to rely a little too much on pesticides. the management, pesticides should be your last option. before that you are going to be planting native trees nearby, native plants, to keep the habitat health, giving the bees another option, not just corn for miles and miles, almond trees for miles and miles.
>> doug, farmers have been reluctantly to give up these neonics. is it something we have to change? >> absolutely. especially for soybeans, treating the seeds with these is by far the biggest use. and the seed treatments for soybeans, the u.s. epa has admitted that at best it provides occasional yield benefits, most of the time it doesn't. >> so you're saying the farm coerce do without this more than they are letting on? >> some of the practices they are used to do, they aren't doing anymore. they have gotten looked on these simplistic farming methods but from land grant universities like iowa state and others these other farming methods that are based on ecological
principles and biological diversity, their study has shown would be more productive and more profitable per acre. so we know we can do this but we need policy makers and others to incentivize and help farmers to do the farming they are doing right now into the more sustainable type of farming. >> phil is this something we've got time to figure out? some of the losses sore losses are so sever, you wonder, can we manage this until such time we come up with an answer to how to prevent these sort of enormous dieoffs? >> in union they have made the decision to stop the neonics now. here we are taking our time with it more. i think we have some time on some of the issues but overall this is something we have been doing for a very long time.
we haven't had the best ag practices, habitat destruction has been huge, since 2008 we have lost the area of land the size of indiana that has gone from prairie and wetlands to something that looks like soy fields and corn fields. this is a bigger problem, we need more fruits and vegetables these days and more need for these bees. we got to get on it now but we do have some time. >> monoculture, phil mentioned it. all you can see over the next horizon and into the next valley is the single crop. does a bee care if it's all soybeans that's flowering? it's a flour flower. >> corn and soybeans are not for example the best. the flowering period is limited and the bees
and other pollenators need food all day long. producing pollen and nectar at all times is really important for bees health and also other important insects and pollenators. >> will collapse disorder change the displays at your local supermarket and the bill at checkout? still ahead on "inside story". >> al jazeera america brings you a first hand look at the environmental issues, and new understanding of our changing world. >> it's the very beginning >> this was a storm of the decade >>...hurricane... >> we can save species... >> our special month long focus, fragile planet
>> we're back with "inside story" on al jazeera america. i'm ray suarez. pace is quick thing on american farms. which means trucks loaded with hives containing millions of bees are already setting out across the country to help pollenate crops. phil torres of al jazeera, "techknow" is still with us. as well as ray gurian. i'll bring back randy vercook to the conversation. if you have to keep upping your population of bees and trying to cope with these sizable losses year after year is that finally going to send a price signal? are you going to have to change the way you do business in ways
that make an apricot cost more a plum cost more an almond cost more down the road? >> yes, absolutely. you know i've been doing this thing for 25 years. and it's -- i've just seen constant change. i've had to move my operation several times mainly because of farming practices. and you know i talked earlier about adaptation, that's part of what we have to do. part of the adapting part is spending more money on our bees trying to keep them alive. if you are making up bees all year long you got to think of a hive as like an -- you know it's like a single little bee factory. and a full production, full honey production hive takes about 50,000 bees to really get in a full crop. and it takes about 20, 25,000 bees just to maintain the hive. so you have 20, 30,000 little buckets going out there and
flying back to the flowers and bringing nectar back to the hive to produce a crop. well, if you have to split that hive in half or take bees away from it, now you're going to cut into your honey production. any time you're making up bees it's going to cost you somewhere. the cost of constantly feeding these bees is going to end up comes to a breaking point where that has to be passed on to the consumer. and so that's -- there is a price point that's going to be paid for that. >> doug gurianan sherman, is the agriculture industry taking randall's problems seriously enough? >> no, i don't think so. what we can do is eliminate or reduce the use of these insecticides. and as i said the best data shows that the impacts would be minor at most to farmers. they're using it as sort of a cheap insurance.
at the expense of the bees and especially even the wild bees. the honey bees are wonderful and we need to protect them and the work that the bee keepers do is tremendous. at least they have the help of the bee keepers to help them feed them more split the hives. the wild pollenators don't have that help. the use of insecticides that we are gaining more and more information, the decline of bees and other beneficial insects in the environment. other issues have to be are addressed, habitat loss, mites and so on. we have the most control over the insecticides and should act on that now. >> phil, do consumers have any choice, buying this instead of that?
can that encourage the kind of agriculture everybody's talking about for maintaining the best possible livelihood for not only farmers, but for people like randy verhook? >> i think that's a tough one to answer. i do think going organic can help in certain ways but even a lot of organic crops have to use some sort of pesticide whether it's natural or not. it still could be affecting these pollenators. hopefully it doesn't come from that, out of desperation we're losing crops, or out of need they have to change. we can get on that now. >> if you have more of one animal, you need less of another.
does natural pollenators be used? >> i think we can encourage them ostep in more than they already are. they don't have that natural selection that most of the wild species do because they are managed by humans. they are energiesing the genetic increasing the genetic diversity. >> thank you, randy verhook and phil torres, thanks for joining us for this edition of snroir. get in touch by facebook, follow us on twitter, and watch us next time, in washington i'm ray suarez.
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